What The Heck Are Likable Characters?

Marylee MacDonald is the author of MONTPELIER TOMORROW, a novel about caregiving and ALS. Her short story collection, BONDS OF LOVE & BLOOD, was a finalist in the Foreword Reviews' INDIEFAB Awards. Her fiction has won Gold and Silver Medals from Readers' Favorites International Book Awards, the Barry Hannah Prize, the Ron Rash Award, and many others.

Have you heard the term “likable characters” tossed around in your book group or circle of writing friends? If you’ve been in the writing biz any length of time, you may have even received e-mails from agents: “I didn’t find the protagonist likable” or “I just didn’t fall in love with your character.”

Image taken from page 10 of 'Jane Eyre' likable characters

Can you create a character as likable as Jane Eyre? Readers feel a bond with her, and they’re rooting for her to find a way past the roadblocks to her happiness. Image from Flickr via The British Library

Fifteen or twenty years ago, I’d never heard the term “likable characters”. Then I began hearing it, and hearing it more often as my friends and I tried to find agents.

For a long time I struggled to discern the meaning of “likable characters.” Now I understand that agents and editors use “likable characters” to describe a feeling of distaste.

“Likable characters” is shorthand for “I got no pleasure from reading about these people.” The term is a signal that the agent would not enjoy living vicariously with your imaginary friend.

The Importance Of The Reader Bond

Agents, and readers in general, want to like and bond with your characters, especially your main character. In this blog post I’m going to talk about character likability and reader bonding.

What makes readers like some characters and detest others? I’m not speaking about villains here. We all know that a good villain is one readers love to hate. I’m talking about protagonists. These are the folks readers are supposed to cheer for. Flawed they may be, but on the whole our protagonists must capture readers’ hearts.

In case you’d like more on this subject, I’ve put together a free report on creating fictional characters. TIPS ON CREATING MEMORABLE CHARACTERS

An Empathy Exercise